More Than Clicks: Rethink Your Newsletter to Boost Engagement

Associations often rely on newsletters to share news with their members, but how do you know if they’re effective? One communication expert discusses ways to retool your newsletter to better engage readers.

Newsletters are often an integral part of an association’s communication toolbelt. They serve many purposes, from helping readers be better professionals, to informing them on impactful legislation, to making them aware of upcoming meetings and learning opportunities. But how do you know if your newsletter content is really giving members what they’re looking for? 

In January 2023, the digital email and marketing platform Constant Contact published its customers’ average open, click, and bounce rates by industry. Nonprofit membership organizations had a 39.4 percent open rate and 1.7 percent click rate, higher than the average of all industries—34.51 percent open rate and 1.33 percent click rate. While nonprofit numbers are strong, they still show that more than half of the audience didn’t open those emails. 

Hilary Marsh, president and chief strategist at Content Company, recommends looking at newsletter engagement beyond click rates.

“Engagement doesn’t mean that I’ve clicked on something. It means that I get it, and that what you’re offering speaks to me and addresses what I need,” she said. “We want [members] to use what we have. We want them to see the value that they are receiving from their dues dollars.”

To figure out if members find the newsletter relevant, review how you’ve been using it. Marsh likens the newsletter to an association’s front door. Not only does it serve as a welcome, but if you want to repair it, you need to consider the connected parts.

“Focus on the strategic aspects of what you are trying to accomplish,” Marsh said. “What’s working, what isn’t, and how can you address what isn’t working?”  

Understanding how your newsletter works requires an investigation into the success of the product. Marsh suggests examining success from two perspectives—the success of the content vehicle and the success of the content. In both cases, success is based on how well you know your readers. 

“Engagement doesn’t mean that I’ve clicked on something. It means that I get it, and that what you’re offering speaks to me and addresses what I need.”

Hilary Marsh, Content Company

Click and open rates are useful to track how well your content vehicle works. To encourage more members to click on your email, consider the best way to present your content.  

“Sometimes click rate can speak to the subject line of a newsletter,” Marsh said. “Subject lines like ‘News from the association: October 2022’ or ‘We have a new video’ aren’t great.” Instead, consider subject lines from the reader’s perspective: What is the video or news about, and why is it important to them?  

Marsh also recommends running newsletter content through a “next-door neighbor test.” Since not every member has the same type of job in the industry, newsletters must use clear language that reaches a wide audience.  

“You can’t presume everyone has the same vocabulary,” she said. “Abbreviations are not necessarily meaningful shorthand to members who don’t live in the world of the association.”

Associations must also keep in mind that not all members have the same interests. Make use of member-satisfaction and communication surveys to find what they want to read about and make tweaks as necessary. “Find out what your members are aware of,” Marsh said. “What they like or don’t like, and how they use the content.”  

Ultimately, having a handle on a newsletter’s purpose and reader needs will help staff create better content. “Once you have a sense of who you are addressing, you will do a better job organically at writing to the audience,” Marsh said.


Hannah Carvalho

By Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now. MORE

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